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Better chances improve odds

Bruins plan for a breakout game

By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / June 4, 2011

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Tonight, if the Bruins aim to improve on their production in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final — they didn’t once slip the puck past Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo — they must initiate their adjustments in center ice.

“It starts, obviously, in the neutral zone,’’ Patrice Bergeron said. “Once we’re in their zone, we’ve got to find a better way to get to the net and battle for those loose pucks. But also fight for ice. They’re doing a good job of boxing us out. We have to make sure we’re getting in front of the net, creating some havoc, and having some better looks.’’

In the 1-0 loss Wednesday night, the Bruins put 36 shots on Luongo. But like coach Claude Julien said yesterday, it was just a number. One, in fact, that belied the quality of legitimate opportunities the Bruins generated.

“The scoring chances are what you have to look at,’’ Julien said. “I think we can be better in regards to that.’’

Of the shots Luongo saw, too many were of the variety a world-class, gold medal-winning goalie can stop — from the outside with little traffic in front.

“That’s what we try and do with every big line,’’ said the Canucks’ Ryan Kesler, who took most of his shifts against the top unit of Milan Lucic, David Krejci, and Nathan Horton. “You try to keep their shots to the outside. You try to limit their second and third opportunities. When you’ve got a goalie like Roberto, he does an excellent job of stopping the first puck. Our job is to eliminate the rebounds. We did a good job of that the last game.’’

Yesterday at Father Bauer Rink at the University of British Columbia, to reinforce good habits, the Bruins emphasized neutral-zone play.

During one drill, assistant coach Geoff Ward tossed pucks into the defensive zone for the blue liners to retrieve. Once they went back for the puck, the defensemen turned quickly up the ice to initiate breakouts with speed. The drill came to a close when the puck approached the offensive blue line. The players repeated the drill several times.

“You can always improve on your speed through the neutral zone,’’ Brad Marchand said. “We just have to make sure we have support all the time whenever we’re coming up the ice. If we can do that, maybe we can get some good opportunities. They like to pinch pretty hard against the boards. We just have to make sure we have support.’’

With crisper retrievals, breakouts, and speed through center ice, the Bruins can gain cleaner entries into the offensive zone — via the rush or dumps. In Game 1, there were times when they didn’t have fresh legs in the neutral zone. Because of that deficiency, the Bruins didn’t drive pucks deep well enough. In turn, it became too easy for the Canucks to pursue dumps, trigger breakouts, and counterattack.

“We were just trying to move the puck out of our zone as quick as possible,’’ Vancouver defenseman Kevin Bieksa said. “We know they want to get the puck low, crash and bang. For us, if we can get back there first and make that first pass, it eliminates that whole area of their game.’’

The strength of the Bruins’ offensive game is their forecheck and down-low cycle. They emphasize hard entries with speed, which allows them to be first to the puck in the offensive zone. Once that starts clicking, then their puck-possession game gets into gear. They like to cycle the puck low, wear out opposing defensemen, use their point men to relieve pressure, and go hard to the crease.

When it’s on, no line executes the game plan better than the first unit. In Game 1, the three first-line forwards totaled 13 shots. Krejci and Horton each landed five. But the line rarely had sustained pressure against Luongo and the Canucks. Too many of their opportunities were of the one-and-done nature.

Tonight, the game plan will start with better wheels through center ice and winning races to pucks in the offensive zone. But the Bruins will have to get hungrier and dirtier in the danger areas. The Canucks have been boxing out the Bruins, not granting them in-close looks.

It’s possible that Dan Hamhuis, who appeared to suffer a leg injury following his Game 1 hip check of Lucic, may not be available tonight. Hamhuis didn’t practice yesterday. Hamhuis and Bieksa have been Vancouver’s ace shutdown pairing. Yesterday, Bieksa skated with depth defenseman Aaron Rome. It may be a pairing the Bruins could exploit.

“You look at where most of our goals are scored,’’ Lucic said. “It’s in front of the net, getting in those dirty areas, getting those rebounds, and fighting for pucks. Their defense does a really good job of battling with whoever’s in front of the net.

“Our guys go to the net. For us, we’ve got to get there and create screens. We’ve got to find those loose pucks, work hard, and bear down once we get those opportunities.’’

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fshinzawa@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto

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